This morning I woke up and did my morning twitter scroll in bed.
I saw this thread from playwright Jeremy O. Harris and it hit me right around my center:
1. Dear @LCTheater, @NYTW79, @vineyardtheatre, @TheNewGroupNYC, @phnyc, @CTGLA, Each of your institutions have produced or have me under contract to produce work about my black American experience. I know that neutrality is the coda of institutions, but your spaces rejected
2. the veneer of neutrality the minute you decided to produce work by me and many of my black peers or idols. In this moment, when ur stages are dark it wouldn’t mean everything but it would mean something for u to articulate to the community u serve why black lives matter to you.
3. How the anger we are all witnessing on the streets of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Richmond, Louisville, Minneapolis is the anger you’ve been allowing people like me to express on a stage. It’s the anger, frustration, and activism we will return to stages with in a few months
4. And it matters to you, not as an individual running marketing but as an institution. Given the work you produced and will produce that should be an unequivocally neutral thing to say, and obvious for your audience to hear. It won’t mean everything but it’ll mean something. xJOH
And then I saw this tweet from museum educator PJ Gubatina Policarpio:
“Hey museums remember all those Black contemporary art you collected recently? The ones you flaunted in your press releases, social media posts, artist talks, fundraising galas and your grants, awards, and overall goodwill. Your silence is deafening.”
And so I wrote a few thoughts, fragments to throw against the deafening silence.
The Dance Presenting Series has been around for 46 seasons and has a solid track record of presenting astounding artists of color, and particularly African-American artists, throughout that time. From Bebe Miller to Bill T. Jones to Garth Fagan to d. Sabela grimes to David Roussève and many more. I’ve only been here for three of those 46 seasons, but I’m so proud of this legacy of presenting racially diverse dance artists. Who we have presented is the most visible part of our history; anyone can see the full list on our website.
I believe there is a more complicated history to grapple with behind the scenes. Did those presented artists of color always feel welcome and have a uniformly positive experience in our space? Did staff of color feel supported? Has the organizational culture been white despite the diversity of artists presented on our stage? We do some things well, but there are many things we can do better in our attempts to dismantle white supremacy in dance education and presentation.
I am so inspired and encouraged and provoked by this document that is circulating in the dance and performance fields called Creating New Futures: Working Guidelines for Ethics & Equity in Presenting Dance & Performance. Created by a group of cultural workers with immense care and thoughtfulness, the document identifies a lot that isn’t working. I don’t know how to solve much, but I feel encouraged by the idea that we can learn together, and that we can figure out ways to better take care of each other.
This weekend I’ve been thinking so much about The Hate U Give, a young adult novel by Angie Thomas (gifted to me by my mom). The Hate U Give is the story of high school student Starr, who witnesses the police kill her friend Khalil. I recommend the book even if you’re not a young adult, or you think you already know about police brutality. I’ve been thinking about the 17 year old student who recorded the killing of George Floyd, and how the white people in this country have failed her. We have to do better for her. We have to do better for those who have their lives stolen by white supremacy.
It’s relatively easy for me to wear a Black Lives Matter shirt. It’s relatively easy for me to donate money to the Chicago Community Bond Fund. It’s relatively easy for me to march in the street. It’s very easy for me to present choreographers of color in the Dance Presenting Series. It’s very easy for me to read the books recommended for an anti-racist education. It’s very easy for me to think other people are the problem.
It’s harder to make sure that I’m modeling anti-racist behavior for my white students. It’s harder to make sure that my private convictions and actions are publicly legible and visible. It’s harder to make sure that I’m a sensitive and supportive ally for my colleagues of color. It’s harder to make sure that all that reading is evident in my actions. It’s harder to challenge the more subtle ways white supremacy shows up in the way we work or the way we think about the world. But it’s been obvious for a long time that we white people need to work harder to dismantle this system, to take on the harder work, to listen to the calls coming from inside the house.
I know for myself I am often afraid of saying the wrong thing (and often do). There’s a part of me that wants to retreat into silence, and just never say or write anything again; a part says that’s the safest option. But I know the status quo is not safe, for any of us. I know that Audre Lorde taught us “your silence will not protect you.” I know that white silence can often equal complicity. I have to keep attempting and keep learning and keep trying to get better, for our students, and artists, and audiences, and all those in our orbit.
Sometimes dance gets painted as frivolous or frou-frou, easy to make fun of. But we know better. Dance is culture. Dance is liveness. Dance is essential. And so what we do in the Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago matters. The ways we work, the art we celebrate, the people we gather – we know that it matters. And so we say Black Lives Matter. Black forms of expression matter. Black artists matter. Black youth matter. Black trans folks matter. We say the name of George Floyd. Of Breonna Taylor. Of Ahmaud Arbery. Of Eric Garner. Of Tony McDade. Of Botham Jean. Of Laquan McDonald. Of Prince Jones. And let them fuel our work for justice.
— Ellen Chenoweth